In June 2012, after getting married, selling off their possessions, and quitting their jobs, Mike and Tara of Two Travelaholics took an epic 14-month honeymoon. They traveled through 26 countries, logging more than 40,000 miles in their first year and a half of marriage. We were all in Hanoi in 2013 and were able to meet in-person for the first time (but not the last, as we later saw them in D.C.!). The four of us spent the day exchanging travel stories over bia hoi and egg coffee – the latter being a first for all of us.
In their new book, Create Your Escape: A Practical Guide for Planning Long-Term Travel, Mike and Tara make it easy for anyone who wants to escape the predictable life to live out their dream. Starting more than a year before departure, the book guides readers through each step of the planning process, all the way up to the time they quit their job and fly to their first destination.
The book includes tricks for saving money; how to create a travel budget; ways to make cash by selling off unnecessary possessions; skills you should learn that will help you on the road; and practical details about packing, creating a power of attorney, and quitting your job without burning bridges. It’s an all-too-valuable handbook for anyone who wants to take a grown-up gap year, career break, or an empty nest adventure.
Now that they’ve returned from traveling the world and finished writing about how others can do the same, I quizzed them about what it was like to escape the predicable life.
Check out this post about The Easiest Countries to Get a Work Visa.
How to Create Your Escape
What was the most difficult part about leaving your life behind? How did you cope with it?
Tara: I was pretty terrified to quit my job and become willingly unemployed. A mini-retirement, as Tim Ferriss would call it, isn’t the path we’re taught to take with our lives as we grow up. Even though I knew it would be a thrilling adventure well worth a year of my youth, I didn’t know how others would perceive it. It was a classic case of caring too much about what other people thought instead of just doing what I wanted. Would the employment gap on my resume make me an unattractive or risky candidate, I wondered. Or, what will my mom think?
Ultimately, after many, many dinner conversations with Mike, we were able to convince ourselves that this trip would be amazing and well worth the risk. Once you have an idea like that, if you don’t act on it you’re more likely to regret it immensely later on in life, and we didn’t want that regret.
Mike: The hardest part of starting the trip was leaving the comfortable life Tara and I had spent the better part of four years creating together. The status quo just felt comfortable. We had a pretty amazing group of friends and were not hurting socially. It seemed like every night we had something going on. Leaving that behind just felt weird. Yet, because life ebbs and flows, our departure actually coincided with several friends leaving the area and others getting married or having children. Life was changing for almost all our closest friends, so in a way our timing was serendipitous.
What’s the biggest misconception about long-term travel?
That the only way to afford long-term travel is to win the lottery. People think it’s a pipe dream. We agree that it sounds unattainable not to have an income stream and still afford to travel the world, but when you do some research and crunch the numbers, you realize how easy it is to make it a reality. You change some habits and make a few short-term sacrifices and you’ll put yourself on track to save enough money to take the trip. Some people say that skipping the $4 latte every day won’t add up to much, but if you’re buying it 5 days a week throughout the year, that’s more than $1,000. There’s your round-trip plan ticket to Southeast Asia or a month in South Africa. Imagine what a year’s worth of cable bills could buy abroad.
What is one aspect of planning for long-term travel that most people don’t think to do?
Designate a power of attorney. You can’t handle every little detail while you’re away, especially if you’re in a remote location or one with spotty Internet.
When you assign a power of attorney, you are legally allowing that person to act on your behalf. Our power of attorney was able to call our bank to sort out monetary issues, submit our income tax paperwork, and even fight a bill with our healthcare provider. Problems that could put a damper on your trip may arise, and it would be far easier for someone in your home country who you trust – like a parent, sibling, or grandparent – to handle them in your absence.
What did you learn about yourself as you traveled?
Tara: I could write a short book on this topic alone! But seriously, I feel like the trip changed me in a lot of ways. For example, it mellowed me out and helped make me more spontaneous. I wasn’t uptight before, but certainly a type-A planner (maybe that’s why I wanted to write a book about planning). Just a couple months into our trip, I realized that I had a difficult time staying positive when faced with a potentially negative situation. (Or maybe Mike pointed it out.) I didn’t like that aspect of myself, so I worked on that a lot during our trip. Partially, it was me learning to be ok with missing a bus or waiting until the last minute to find a hostel for the night. It was also me realizing that memorable things can happen when you don’t plan for it. For instance, we were Couchsurfing in Johannesburg, South Africa, for a few days with a great host. We were in Joburg to get a couple visas and had no idea what to do in the city. His generosity extended from introducing us to his friends, to showing us some of his favorite spots downtown, and even taking us outside the city to areas we wouldn’t have been able to visit unless we rented a car (like Soweto and the Apartheid Museum). He was one of the many kind people who taught me a lot about the compassion of strangers and the fun things that can happen when you learn to let go.
Mike: One part of my personality that changed over the course of our travels was my sense of humor. It sounds weird, or maybe mean, but a lot of things I would laugh at or find humorous before the trip were at the expense of others. For example, I used to think that poorly translated signs were hilarious. I would take pictures and post them to Facebook. But then I came to see how earnest the sign writers are, and it made them less funny. Even though their goal may be to make money off foreigners, their directions, menus, and safety instructions are still helpful and appreciated. They have no obligation to help English speakers, yet there I was laughing at them.
I came to recognize the universal things that are funny across all languages and cultures, but those aren’t necessarily the same things I thought were funny before the trip. This is not to say I’ve become humorless, though. Rather, I try to find funny situations that have universal appeal. If it can be expressed without words, even better, as those are the times I find myself laughing hardest.
What steps should others take to start their own path to escaping the predictable life?
Take action. Your escape plan isn’t going to fall into your lap – you have to create it. The longer you wait to make your first move, the more likely you are to talk yourself out of it or allow others to. Even the smallest of steps will put you on the path to success. Buy a world map and hang it on your wall at home. Stick pins into the locations you want to visit. Build your dream itinerary and get excited about the future that you’re actively creating for yourself.
In our new book Create Your Escape: A Practical Guide for Planning Long-Term Travel, we clearly outline the steps that will take your idea from conception to a reality. More than just planning the actual trip and calculating a travel budget, Create Your Escape shows you how to do the necessary behind-the-scenes work, like convincing a potential travel partner to join you; reducing your possessions so you can store as few as possible; saving money for both your trip and a return fund that will keep you afloat until you land a new job; making a plan for how to tell family, friends, and coworkers about your trip; and more.
I’m a foodie, so I have to ask, what is the most memorable meal from your travels?
Tara: This is very tough for me, but I’d have to say tofu larb from Laos. I had it in every city we visited and sometimes daily. The beautiful lime dressing in combination with fresh mint and lightly fried tofu creates immense flavor that my tastebuds still crave. I would organize a layover in Laos just for the food if I could (I’m currently trying to convince Mike to do so when we go to SE Asia later this year). Though I still drool thinking about almost every meal I had in Malaysia (baba laksa, curry laksa, char kway teow, roti canai, mee goreng, chendol – the list goes on!). Mmmmmm!
Mike: Through Couchsurfing, we had some amazing culinary explorations, but one in particular had real staying power. We surfed with a Vietnamese woman who was living in Penang, Malaysia, at the time. Besides preparing an amazing feast of rice, sour soup, and fried fish one night, she walked us through the importance and versatility of dehydrated shrimp, fish sauce, and chilies – magic ingredients universal to most SE Asian cuisine. These three are now staples in the meals we make, and can always be found in our pantry.
Thanks Mike and Tara, and good luck with the book! Great to hear about fellow travel bloggers encouraging people to travel the world.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.